Gifted Students with Learning Disabilities


Research and significant writing about students with disabilities started around 25 years ago. There has not been any distinctive definition of gifted students with learning disabilities. However, gifted children with disabilities can be categorized as learners with an overall IQ range that is above average, or students with exceptional abilities in a particular area of study, for instance in mathematics, and who show a considerable discrepancy between success and recognized intellectual potential. The gifted students with learning disabilities can be categorized into three groups: identified students who are gifted and who have slight learning disabilities, unidentified students whose disabilities and gifts are masked by average success/achievement and identified learning students who are disabled and gifted (Willard-Holt, Weber, Morrison, & Horgan, 2013).

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Gifted students with learning disabilities show the following weaknesses: they are not able to do a simple task, but they can tackle sophisticated activities, their spelling and handwriting is poor, they have difficulty in computing, but they have a higher mathematical reasoning, difficulty copying from the board, and they are disruptive in class, among many others. These students show some strengths, such as passion in the subject of interest, excellent visual imagery, and vocabulary that is above average. Although the term “gifted learning disabilities’ is commonly used in literature, other expressions such as “twice exceptional” are also used (Gallagher, Coleman, & Anastasiow, 2010).

It is hard to identify students who are gifted and disabled and, therefore, these students fail to maximize their full potential in the education system. The lack of an absolute definition of giftedness and learning disabilities mean that there is confusion in identifying the gifted students with learning disabilities (GSLD). It is also difficult to identify GSLD because they have a remarkable ability to hide and compensate for their weaknesses. However, it is significant to note that GSLD identification usually starts with teachers and parents. Many researchers have indicated that parents often say that their children were bright in their early years of studying, but their academic performance deteriorated with time, particularly in language and reading. Gifted behavior before the child enters school and subsequent failure serve as important indicators of a gifted student with learning disabilities. It is believed that parents know the child’s weaknesses and strengths best, therefore, they are just as accurate in identifying GSLD children (Sleeter, 2010).

It is important to recognize the GSLD as early as possible, especially during their childhood. This facilitates them in succeeding in the education system. It also helps in early intervention, especially in cases of children with motor delays. A barrier to identifying gifted students with disabilities is the anticipation that the student will show the same characteristics of abilities as the regular students who are categorized as gifted students. For instance, if a teacher believes that students who are gifted express their ideas and knowledge in writing, it will then be impossible to identify a gifted student who cannot form letters correctly. The gifted and talents of GSLD will then remain vague and unnoticed to the teacher. The parents may be unable to identify the students, as well (McHatton, Boyer, Shaunessy, Terry, & Farmer, 2010).

On the other hand, parents may neglect the significance of nurturing the gifts and abilities while they take much time in addressing their weaknesses. It is important for both teachers and parents to identify gifted students with learning disabilities, and put in place appropriate measures and strategies in order to enrich and accelerate their abilities, and address their weaknesses. It is noted that inappropriate learning strategies can have limited learning experiences and negative attributes for the GSLD. Commonly, the abilities of the GSLD students are overlooked. The difficulties associated with their disabilities make the identification of their strengths unlikely. There is a great need to have their special talents and abilities acknowledged and addressed. Great focus should be placed on improving and developing their capabilities and strengths in order to help them take part in school activities, although interventions may be necessary in the reduction of their disabilities. It is important to identify each strength and weakness of every student in order to come up with an education program that caters to their needs.

In order for the GSLD to shine amongst the non-disabled students and peers in school, appropriate assessment strategies should be used to harness their strengths. It is significant to use assessment procedures that are designed to boost the development of GSLD talents and abilities. Regardless of disabilities that GSLD have, they need to have their gifts and abilities nurtured and given an opportunity to succeed.


Disability can be defined as a difference, either a gift or impairment. A student who does not perform well in one area of study could be gifted in another section. It is important to embrace the philosophy of education for the disabled students by nurturing the potential gift in the students instead of putting down their area of weakness. The best education system is that one which aims at polishing the skills of the students, and developing their new talents in order to help them excel in the area where they perform best. The system should not concentrate on changing the identity and abilities of gifted students with learning disabilities with the aim of making them equal with regular students.

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